Access Wikipedia, and you'll learn they have eight legs, a pair of grasping pincers, and generally, a narrow, segemented tail that's curved over the back and ends with a stinger. They prey primarily on insects and other invertebrates. Their ancestors date back some 435 million years ago.
Scorpions now live on all continents except Antarctica. Scientists have described more than 2,500 described species in 22 families. The most venomous scorpion? That's considered to be "the deathstalker," Leiurus quinquestriatus, belonging to the Buthidae family.
What makes the deathstalker's venom so lethal is a potent cocktail of neurotoxins including chlorotoxin, agitoxin and scyllatoxin. While extremely dangerous, the unique chemical composition and scarcity of its venom also makes it the most valuable liquid (by volume) in the world with an estimated cost of $39 million per gallon. It is prized by the medical community because its properties have been found to be effective in the treatment of cancer, malaria and against bacteria such as tuberculosis.--Guinness Book of World Records.
Most people have never seen a scorpion up close, but visitors did at the Bohart Museum of Entomology display in the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, during the 12th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.
Live scorpions, as well as specimens, drew curious looks and scores of questions.
Kat Taylor, a UC Davis freshman majoring in entomology, helped with a display coordinated by the Jason Bond arachnology lab. Bond, an authority on spiders, tarantulas and scorpions (among other arachnids) serves as the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and the associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and a traditional part of Biodiversity Museum Day, displayed Asian forest scorpions (genus Heterometrus) and two walking sticks (order Phasmida): Extatosoma tiaratum, the Australian spiny walking stick, and Ramulus artemis, a giant Vietnamese stick insect known as "a great thin walking stick."
Visitors marveled when Martin fluoresced a scorpion under ultraviolet light, turning it from an obscure brown to a glowing blue-green.
Scientists have known for more than 60 years that fluorescent compounds in the exoskeletons glow when exposed to UV light.
The 12th annual Biodiversity Museum Day showcased 11 museums and collections: the Anthropology Museum, Arboretum and Public Garden, Bohart Museum of Entomology, Botanical Conservatory, California Raptor Center, Center for Plant Diversity, Nematode Collection, Marine Invertebrate Collection, Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Paleontology Collection and the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection.
BioDiv Day, founded by the Bohart Museum, is traditionally held on Presidents' Day weekend. This year's event, held Feb. 18, drew an estimated 3000, according to chair Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart Museum. The "Super Science Day" is free and family friendly.
The Bohart Museum and the Jason Bond lab are both located in the Academic Surge Building. The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 and directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a worldwide collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a live "petting zoo" and a gift shop. The Bohart Museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m.
The next event to see insects and arachnids in the Academic Surge Building? That would Saturday, April 15 during the 109th annual UC Davis Picnic Day. It is free and open to the public.
Annie is a pet scorpion belonging to Emma Jochim, a second-year doctoral student n the Jason Bond lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"She's an Anuroctonus pococki so I call her 'Annie' for short!" said Jochim. "The common name is 'Californian swollen stinger scorpion' because they have an extra 'bulb' on their telson that most scorpions don't, so I think that's pretty neat about this species. I haven't tried to handle her because she seems pretty aggressive--stinging crickets/roaches as soon as I put them in front of her and attacking water when I pour some in her enclosure."
Jochim's labmate, Xavier Zahnle, found the scorpion while he was collecting millipedes "and brought her back to me so I'm not sure how old she is but I've had her for a year and a half."
Emma holds a bachelor's degree in biology, with a minor in geology and chemistry, from Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss., where she graduated summa cum laude. Her honors thesis: "Species Delimitation of Vaejovis Scorpions from the Santa Catalina Mountains Using Genetic, Morphological, and Geographical Data." While a student at Millsaps College, her outreach activities including sharing her knowledge of tarantulas, scorpions and vinegaroons at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.
"Annie" will be just one of the live animals displayed in the Bohart Museum of Entomology/Jason Bond booth in the Conference Center. The Bond section also will include a live trapdoor spider (genus Hebestatis), a tarantula and millipedes, as well as specimens.
Doctoral candidate Lacie Newton of the Bond lab is coordinating the arachnid/myriapod section. Jason Bond, her major professor, is the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"And there will be a small interactive station where people will be able to use props that mimic an insect flying into a web and learn more about the sensory structures that spiders have to detect those vibrations," Newton said.
Eleven Museums, Collections. Scientists from a total of 11 museums or collections will staff booths in the Conference Center. Represented will be the Arboretum and Public Garden, UC Davis Bee Haven, Bohart Museum of Entomology, Botanical Conservatory, California Raptor Center, Center for Plant Diversity, Department of Anthropology Museum, Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Nematode Collection, Paleontology Collection, and the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection. Visitors can sign up at the Conference Center for tours of several of the museums or collections. (See news story)
The UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day is traditionally held on the Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend. However, last year's event was virtual, and this year's event is centrally located in an exposition. For more information, access the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day website and/or connect with Instagram,Twitter, and Facebook.
Bohart Fact Sheets on Scorpions. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, has published two Fact Sheets about scorpions on the Bohart website.
Scorpions are arachnids, Kimsey writes, "and like all arachnids, they have eight legs, although it looks like ten, and a body divided into two regions, the cephalothorax (the head plus thorax) and the abdomen...The scorpion exoskeleton is different from that of similar groups. Something about it causes scorpions to fluoresce bright blue to green under ultraviolet light. So in the desert its easy to find them at night with a black light."
Kimsey describes scorpions as "nocturnal predators. During the day they hide under stones, logs or boards, or in cracks and holes in the ground. They prey on ground-dwelling insects and other small animals. Scorpions will occasionally wander into homes, particularly in new housing developments. New housing developments often encroach upon the scorpions' normal habitat and as a result these animals will blunder into homes searching for prey and shelter. Within several years, scorpions will no longer live in these areas because of the lack of suitable habitat and prey."
"The majority of California scorpion species average about 2 inches long as adults, however, some exotic species can be as long as 6 inches. Scorpions occur throughout the milder parts of California, including the Sierra foothills and the coastal mountains. Most of the species of scorpions in California pose no more threat to humans than do ordinary bees and wasps."
How long do they live? "Adult scorpions generally live two to three years," Kimsey relates. "They do not begin producing young until they are nearly a year old. Females produce between 20 and 30 live young at a time. Young scorpions are carried on the female's back for the first 5-15 days of life."
Logan, a visitor at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's recent open house on spiders and other arachnids, wowed the crowd with his knowledge of scorpions.
“Logan is only in kindergarten but he was showing his mom our arachnid drawer and describing the differences between the Emperor Scorpion, Pandinus imperator, and the Dictator Scorpion, Pandinus dictator,” said Bohart associate and scorpion scientist Wade Spencer, an undergraduate student at Bohart Museum. “Thankfully, he wasn't at all shy when I asked him to repeat what he had just said to the crowd.”
“He loved sharing his knowledge with those interested,” Spencer said. “And his mom is an arachnid saint as she supports his endeavors even while she still gets the willies from just looking at them. She told me she finds it important to keep her cool so that he may never lose his enthusiasm.”
The Bohart Museum's three-hour open house included a presentation on spiders by Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Scientists in both the Bond lab and the Bohart lab led arachnid activities, including "Eat Like a Spider" and "Catch a Moth."
Spencer and fellow Bohart associate and entomology undergraduate student Lohit Garikipati, tabled the scorpion display. The guests asked questions, gingerly touched them, and took cell phone photos.
Spencer currently has 37 scorpions of various species. Scorpions are venomous, not poisonous, he pointed out. As Professor Bond said in his talk: "Poisonous is what you eat it make you sick. Venomous means it takes toxin and it injects it into you."
"Fun fact about scorpions, Spencer said, "is that all of them are safe to eat as none of them are poisonous (toxins ingested or absorbed), but all of them (as far as we know) are venomous (containing poison(s) which are injected by some means)."
"I use the term 'medically significant' because it has the most potent venoms we know of, but I refrain and even discourage the use of the term 'dangerous' when describing scorpions and other venomous creatures," Spencer said. "It's often our own carelessness which makes them dangerous. If you live in in scorpion country, shake out your boots if you leave them outside and buy a $20 UV flashlight on Amazon. Those are simple ways to detect them and avoid being stung."
Spencer said he handles "my little Leiurus q. to show just how gentle and adorable she is so that people can have visual confirmation to back my claim that there is no such thing as a dangerous scorpion--though it should be clear I am not saying they're cuddly or friendly like a puppy. I advocate for them to be treated with caution and respect.
The UC Davis student attributes his interest in scorpions to his great-grandmother.
"My great-grandmother would always take me on afternoon picnics in the Big Tujunga Canyon Wash, a mostly dry river bed in the San Gabriel mountains in my home town of Sunland. She was a naturalist at heart and taught me about the native plants, geology, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and my favorite: the bugs. If ever we encountered a scorpion, she would stop and show me, but wouldn't kill them. Instead, starting when I was 3, she taught me that they were nothing to fear and showed me how to gently handle them. I've handled thousands ever since and not once been stung."
"I'm often asked why I'm not stung, and my response is always the same: 'It's not a cat!' By that, I mean, there's no risk of it randomly attacking me. I have scars all over my body from dogs and cats."
Spencer loves scorpions for three primary reasons:
- "Knowing their ancestors were the first animals on land about 450 million years ago."
- "Many of their venoms are being studied for use in shrinking brain tumors, sending fluorescent dyes to tumors with such specificities as to view 200 cancerous cell clusters--whereas MRIs can view 500,000 cell clusters. And some--to regulate insulin, treat arthritis, and antimicrobial components--have been used in mice with MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureas), completely curing them in 4 days."
- "Working with them directly and seeing how many people we have helped get over their fears has me simply head-over-heels for them."
The scorpion display drew the interest of adults and children alike. Three Brownie Girl Scouts from Vacaville giggled and comforted one another when they experienced the "Virtual Reality Spiders" demonstration conducted by medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. But not so the scorpion display.
"When it came to the live stuff, the girls (Kendl Macklin, 7, Jayda Navarette, 8, and Keira Yu, 8) were more calm than nervous," said Spencer, adding "I thanked them for their bravery and showing the adults that there was nothing to fear."
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, a gift shop, and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects or walking sticks, and tarantulas. The insect museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m.
But did you know that scorpions are the oldest living terrestrial arthropods on the planet--that they're approximately 400 million years old? And that these "living fossils" were here before the dinosaurs?
And, did you also know that scorpions are the only arachnids that give birth to live young?
All fascinating facts.
Scorpion scientist Lauren Esposito of the California Academy of Sciences, will reveal those facts--and much more--when she discusses her research at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Esposito, assistant curator and Schlinger chair of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, will speak on "Evolution of New World Scorpions and Their Venom" from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. Host is Jason Bond, Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Scorpions are just about everywhere; they're found on every continent except Antarctica. In fact, they're found in every ecosystem on the planet, from cave systems below sea level to the peaks of the Alps and the Andes, Esposito says. Although scientists have described 2,200 species of scorpions, Esposito estimates that this number encompasses only 60 percent of the group's total diversity. In her research, she's trying to fill in that taxonomic gap.
Scorpions first drew Esposito's interest in her childhood. Both her parents are biologists. She remembers visiting her grandparents on a remote island in the Bahamas. “The most dangerous things on the island were ants and scorpions, so it was a pretty ideal place for a child to explore,” she quips on the Cal Academy website.
Esposito served a summer undergraduate internship in arachnology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and did volunteer work at a field station in the Chihuahuan Desert. She returned to AMNH to complete her doctorate in arachnology, and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship studying the biogreography of scorpions in the Caribbean. In 2015, she accepted an arachnologist position at the Cal Academy.
"For the past several years, Esposito has studied the evolution and geographical distribution of scorpions in the Caribbean," according to the Cal Academy website. "She suspects the string of islands played a significant but underappreciated role in producing the biodiversity currently found in North and South America. Because scorpions are essentially 'living fossils,' they're ideal organisms to study to decipher this larger relationship. Understanding the biodiversity of this region in a time of rapid agricultural development is a key step toward sustaining it for sustaining it for future generations."
Esposito marvels that a single scorpion "can carry the genes for more than 200 unique venoms in its DNA." She describes those venom varieties as "like protein cocktails, mixed to affect specific mammals, insects, and crustaceans."
“Researchers think that scorpions eject venoms with different compositions depending on the scenario," she says. "If they encounter a predator, they'll eject one combination, and if they encounter prey, a different one.” The venom's effects? Pain, temporary paralysis, or death.
Esposito focuses her research on the evolution of scorpion venom alongside the evolution of scorpions. This makes her unique among venom experts, who are often toxicologists or biochemists studying its chemistry, according to the Cal Academy website.
“Looking at how this venom diversity evolved helps us understand how one creature can evolve the ability to strike hundreds of specific targets,” explains Esposito. “There's a kind of evolutionary arms race happening between scorpions and mammals, particularly with predatory, nocturnal scorpion mice.”
Cal Academy's YouTube video on The Anamolies: Venom Race points out that although "the stings of most scorpions are harmless to humans, a select few can be fatal. Striped bark scorpions, a group of species found in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, inflict on average 100,000 stings and, until recently, caused more than a thousand deaths each year in Mexico alone. While finding a treatment to this public health concern has been a driving force behind studies of bark scorpion venom, there was one very basic question that had scientists scratching their heads: Why and how would such a tiny creature pack such a lethal punch? Now, researchers, including Lauren Esposito, curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, think they've found the answers in the interplay between a diminutive but dauntless predator—a mouse that has a particular taste for these venomous invertebrates—and the scorpions' own genetic makeup."
Check out these other incredible videos on the Cal Academy website:
Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, coordinates the weekly seminars.
Hamilton will be at the 142nd annual Dixon May Fair on Friday, May 12.
Not the crowd-pleasing Broadway musical, but a crowd-pleasing scorpion named Hamilton, a resident of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology. He's owned by Bohart Museum associate Wade Spencer, a UC Davis student majoring in entomology.
Spencer will be bringing Hamilton, as well as his scorpion named Celeste, to the Dixon May Fair's Floriculture Building on Friday afternoon for fairgoers to see and photograph (but not to hold; they're venomous).
Throughout the four-day fair, May 11-14, the Bohart Museum will be showcasing 17 drawers of "Oh My" insect specimens in the Floriculture Building. Scientists will be showing live critters and chatting with fairgoers on two days: Friday, May 12 (1 to 6 p.m.) and on Saturday, May 13 (noon to 5 p.m.)
The live critters? They're part of the Bohart Museum's popular "petting zoo," which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks. Fairgoers can hold and photograph them.
On Saturday, May 13, entomologist and educator Jeff Smith, curator of the butterfly and moth specimens at the Bohart, will be bringing part of his global insect collection of specimens. He and other scientists also will staff the live petting zoo of Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks on Saturday.
Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator, said the 17 drawers of insect specimens spotlight bees, aquatic insects, camouflaged insects, phasmids/mantids, predators/parasitoids, sexual dimorphism, fly-fishing, entomophagy (consumption of insects and arachnids), common California insect pests, leg diversity (Harlequin beetle as center), wing diversity (moth-based), mimicry, orchid pollinators, Hemiptera/Odonata (think dragonflies), cockroaches, and butterflies.
The Bohart display is just one part of the scores of exhibits in the Floriculture Building, organized by superintendent Dave Hutson of Vacaville, a 10-year UC Master Gardener. Exhibits include colorful bee and butterfly motifs.
Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, exhibitors are showing other insect-themed work, such as the scorpion sculpture crafted by Roberto Ortiz of the Dixon FFA. It's displayed in the Youth Building.
Over in the Livestock Barn, you can see Buggy, owned by Sophia DeTomasi, 10, of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville. Buggy, however, is not an insect--it's a fine-looking 275-pound Berkshire hog that Sophia raised. The origin of the name? Sophia's family fondly calls her "Buggy" and she's passed the moniker on to her 4-H project. Buggy shares a pen with a hog named Bea, raised by Sophia's sister, Toni.
Theme of the 142nd annual Dixon May Fair is "Farm to Fair." It's also known as the 36th Agricultural District, the oldest district fair and fairgrounds in the state of California. The fair supports the communities of Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Elmira, Woodland and Davis, according to chief executive officer Patricia Conklin. The grounds are located at 655 S. First St., Dixon. (For the schedule of events, access thewebsite.)
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus the live petting zoo and a year-around gift shop. The Bohart Museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays.